Nahuatl Hymn to the All-Mother


Nahuatl Hymn to the All-Mother


treble choir (SSA a capella)




Exploring by chartered skiff the waters of Lake Nicaragua, it is easy to imagine a time before motors and well-lit house boats—a time when the Nahuatl-speaking tribe led by chief Nicarao, from whom the country itself draws its name (Nicarao - the chief - and agua - water), was settled on its shores. 

I'd been deep in process thinking on images of Nicarao's tribe when Sharon Hansen, Founder and Music Director of The Milwaukee Choral Artists, contacted me about commissioning a new work to celebrate the group's tenth anniversary.  I was thrilled by what I immediately thought to be a wonderful pairing of imagery and performers: what better way to pay tribute to this powerful ensemble of deeply musical female voices than with a setting of a Nahuatl prayer in praise of the All-Mother, protector of life.  

A note about three words in the text drawn from the Nahuatl language:

"Ahuiya" (pronounced: ä-hwē΄-yä) is a Nahuatl word meaning "rejoice" or "to take pleasure in".   

"Maguey" (pronounced: măg΄-wāy), also known as "American aloe", is an agave indigenous to Mexico now cultivated world-wide; the agua miel (honey water) exuded from its flower stem is used to produce mezcal while leaves yield strong fibers used for making rope and cloth.   

The "Quetzal" (pronounced: kět-zäl΄) is a brightly colored, long-tailed bird indigenous to Central America; the bird takes its name from the Nahuatl word quetzalli meaning "large brilliant tail feather".

Commissioned by The Milwaukee Choral Artists on the occasion of their Tenth Anniversary Season, Sharon A. Hansen, Conductor, Nahuatl Hymn to the All-Mother was completed in July 2007 while in residence at The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.   An added personal note about the work: premiered by MCA on Saturday, February 16, 2008, Nahuatl Hymn to the All-Mother received its first public performance on the same evening that we went into labor with our first child, giving birth the following evening to a healthy baby boy, Atticus Alemán Hagen, to whom the piece has since been lovingly dedicated.    —Gilda Lyons